Taking Law Seriously

17 Pages Posted: 14 Apr 2006

See all articles by Barry Friedman

Barry Friedman

New York University School of Law


The positive literature on judicial behavior has not received nearly the attention it deserves. That literature has a great deal to offer, both to legal scholars and to those who are concerned about the role of legal institutions generally. For example, the literature has the potential to help shed light on the ability of courts to protect rights and foster economic development. This article argues that the positive literature has failed to see its due in large part because positive scholars often do not take law and legal institutions seriously.

The article identifies three specific sets of problems with the positive scholarship, offering detailed suggestions on how positive scholars can avoid them. The first is the problem of normative bite: Too often positive scholars of judicial behavior seem to be trapped in their own disciplinary debates, without pausing to examine why it is that they are studying what courts and legal institutions do. Second, positive scholars need to pay greater attention to the norms of the law, i.e., how law and legal institutions operate. A skeptical stance toward law is fine, but that skepticism should not get in the way of accurately understanding the mechanics of law and legal institutions. Finally, empiricists in particular must take great care regarding the data upon which they rely. It is difficult to obtain good data on the workings of legal systems. Data that are readily available often present a distorted picture of the system being studied.

Suggested Citation

Friedman, Barry, Taking Law Seriously. Perspectives on Politics, Vol. 4, No. 2, June 2006; NYU, Law and Economics Research Paper No. 06-19; NYU Law School, Public Law Research Paper No. 06-08. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=896921

Barry Friedman (Contact Author)

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